This is a critique of the idea of Hindu version of feminism.
The sample arguments in the referred article by @gary_1980in are taken for comment, this critique is more about the conceptual bases of what goes by Hindu version of feminism, which is not limited to the phrase Hindu Feminism.
“Firstly, Hindu Feminism is merely a development. It is not a popular movement as of now, and as I have come to know, it has been getting discussed in academic circles, although not frequently”
As such, the criticism of an idea is to be done at the level of an idea and its conceptual correctness. If it is in an early development stage it is evidently more prone to such criticism.
Concepts evolve from “ground reality”, through relevant abstractions and generalizations. So the formulation of an idea is therefore not viable just because it mentions facts, it becomes viable through relevant abstractions. The same set of facts is often explainable through several conceptualizations, only few of which are tenable when evaluated from conceptual correctness.
The main issue with Hindu Feminism (HF) is that there is no conceptual basis laid down for it – it emerges directly from a certain perception of experiences of a certain segment of people. So it is simply not enough to say HF is different from western feminism – it needs to be told what exactly constitutes HF, and in its absence, it is an evident conclusion that anything that is not claimed differently would default to western feminism. More importantly, the basic worldview of HF is not even spelt out, leave alone in what ways it is different from the secularized monotheistic worldview of bifurcating the world into phenomenal dichotomies.
This is fair, given that the idea is said to be in early development. However the idea’s locus standi itself, is a different question, which is why the question of worldview and the relevance of idea in a worldview is brought into the debate. On that count, H worldview is not inherently that of fragmenting but of integrating. Identities build from the micro to the macro, and all institutions are reconciled between the micro-macro. There are two themes that ever see male-female dichotomy: one is the cosmic view of two primal principles (Siva-Sakti, purusha-prakRti, prakASa-vimarSa etc) underlying creation. Second is its micro manifestation in the basic unity of society namely family – the head & central powers, the sustenance & growth functions, the correctness & auspiciousness natures, the ownership & belongingness views, the list goes on in how many ways on how many bases exist for such dichotomy. But the same tradition that sees this dichotomy, warns us against seeing these as matters of persons instead of as matters of principles. To drive home this it is often said there is a woman in every man and a man in every woman (the same applies to some other classifications but that will be a digression). It also says each person is a full stake holder in the entire family and its every aspect of abhyudaya. Therefore role stereotyping (in contrast to nature stereotyping) is somewhat an aberration in the way things are understood and seen.
The real problem in HF as an idea is not that it is re-negotiating man-woman equation: such modifications came all through history depending not on worldview but on social exigencies and changing conditions. The real problem is the positioning of the idea at a social/macro level instead of the micro level. The main problem of western feminism is that it pitted the social feminine versus social masculine. The results it achieved are disastrous: it achieved parity of feminine individual by destroying feminine principle both in public and private spaces, in social and individual spaces.
This will remain the question of critics of HF, while the other aspects of the idea could still emerge. How exactly do you plan to, conceptually and in any sort of realizing of the idea in reality, prevent such thing from happening? How do you prevent to make this a man-woman macro problem and create micro mechanisms for such prevention while addressing these things at the micro level? What concepts would you use in your articulation to drive home the point that you are not trying to liberate woman from society by making society the villain?
This asks naturally, for a reformulation about how fragmentation is seen and understood. The complex integration motives in Hindu society work on building identities upwards and do not allow vertical fragmentation. Vertical fragmentation of man-woman is destructive to society, Hindu or otherwise. In Islamic society it doctrinally achieves oppression while in the west it counter-doctrinally achieves destruction of feminine principle.
Understanding of Dharma
“The most legitimate is that Dharma is adequate, but evolves. The interpretations of dharma evolve, in fact very drastically too (whether for good or bad)”
Dharma is dynamic in its application but there is a reason it is called sanAtana or eternal. The application is in three layers – eternal, phenomenal and temporal. These are visible in the three layers of any dharma SAstra – the sanAtana (eternal), yuga (temporal) and deSa-kAla (situational) layers. The permanent institutions of society such as family are based on the permanent aspects of human nature. The situational norms are based on the prevalent situation and are framed in a way that they do not go against the permanent ones.
Secondly the very statement of dharma is in terms of nature of things than instructive: “this is how things work, doing this leads to such and such results” rather than “thou shalt do this”. This difference between the dhArmic impersonal nature and the Christian instructive moralism if understood, we will start making the right sense out of dharma SAstra-s rather instead of reading present day colonial meanings into them. This needs note because it is a pervasive theme in most of the topics usually discussed about Hindu society, dharma and the individual and collective stereotypes.
The stereotypes of man-woman roles are, strictly speaking neither – the stereotypes that exist today are predominantly post-colonial and align with western Christian understanding of the world. In fact the man as a bread earner and woman as a home maker is in itself a western stereotype – the Hindu society for ages sustained not through individual roles but by collective roles. Vocations are predominantly family and clan owned, and this stereotype does not even arise in traditional Hindu society (this is not an archaic detail of past but a living reality for millions of Hindu families today). The employment culture that the west created and is picking up in India, in contrast to the self-employed skill-groups, is what primarily creates this stereotype. For this reason, feminism in India sought response from the employed class and did not exact response from big sections of the population prosperous or otherwise. It is not surprising that the response would keep rising with more sections coming into employment culture. Which directly points to westernizing of Hindu society and NOT to Hindu society’s inherent nature. The real participation of women and feminine principle in society (see article) does not become part of the articulation of HF, as a reference point of how to bring it about.
Woman’s role as central to society (not just family) is best expressed in Sister Nivedita’s phrase (The Web of Indian Life).
Similarly the stereotype of motherhood being the primary identity of woman, is much distorted by positioning the dhArmic natural expression into a Christian ought. Dharma does not say woman “should” see her motherhood as primary, it says it is the *nature* of woman to see it as primary. It is neither an imposition nor social enforcement.
The TFR Thing and Nature
“On incorporating externalities, the biggest example of using ‘externalities by convenience’ is over the top stress on TFR (total Fertility Rate) and blaming women solely for the falling average fertility rate.”
No, not women but feminist individualism is what is blamed. It is the natural tendency of human to seek multiplication and continuation, it is the artificial articulation of western feminism, along with the crypto-theocratic thinking underlying the legislations of monogamy that caused a downfall of TFR in the west.
By nature, like several other animals, majority of humans are monogamous while many are not – legislating monogamy as west demonstrates, does not ensure commitment to partner or family but destroys the whole family institution by creating multiple serial monogamies in the life of common man. The most important aspect of marriage and family, namely commitment is absent even when monogamy is enforced – because separation is always a convenient (NOT helpless) possibility. In contrast polygamous or monogamous, Hindu society does not look at negatives and tries to create the main ingredient namely commitment which brings stability of family as well as society.
These are things that society and individuals must manage and not the state, because state does not have the ability to trade freedom with correctness it only has means to selectively curtail it in the backdrop of the framework of rights.
“Most of our gods and best of our warriors are not known for having many children from one woman”
Well most of our gods are themselves siblings – Aditya-s, Marut-s etc. Similarly non-gods daitya-s are born to diti, sarpa-s to kadrU and so on. But this is not mentioned as an exception to counter the statement above. Fact is that these things are natural trade-offs – “most” gods if do not have children from one woman they would have many children from many women. That does not improve TFR but gods are not into the business of TFR anyway – they are ever-livers and have no inherent stake in perpetuating their next generations as they themselves perpetuate forever. So gods are not good examples. The ideals set for humans, are to be emulated from ideal humans – rAma, kRshNa, pAnDava-s, nala, Sibi, vikramArka and so on. And it is this tradeoff we see. Because that is the tradeoff any naturally surviving human or animal society has at its disposal.
So the simple answer to TFR: 1. Present monogamy as an ideal by making rAma the role model and not enforce legally 2. Leave it to individuals to figure out how many kids they want, on each woman and man 3. Do not foist over-individualist and anti-social stereotypes such as individual emancipation FROM society (not that HF is doing so but HF needs to see this in context of other two points). 4. Do not selectively exempt communities from family planning.
Victimhood movements – a warning
The enemy of Hindu society is very clear in the understanding of sheaths of samAja: the inner most is the traditionally trained traivarNika, then the Brahmin, baniya, woman, prosperous SUdra, dalit, Christian and Muslim. Outer the sheath, the greater affinity enemy shows and the inner the sheath, the more openly the enemy targets as the enemy. For instance the traditional brahmin is openly the villain, while the prosperous Sudra is only clandestinely targeted. The outer the sheath, the enemy gains affinity through creation of victimhood complex – for instance the woman is a victim, dalit is a victim, muslim is a victim. In every encounter between one outer and one inner sheath, the enemy openly pits the outer as his favorite and as the victim of inner sheath. So woman is a victim of society when it comes to individualism but not a victim when the topic is mass rapes by muslims. The same strategy is visible in dalit-muslim encounters, dalit-SUdra encounters and so on.
The politicians and NGOs take advantage of this by taking for a ride the inner sheaths and showing victimhood affinity to outer sheaths.
This backdrop is necessary to understand the real impact of any idea and how it ends up working in society, in total contrast to how it is envisioned. Neither the feminine individualism nor dalit oppression nor minority insecurity have taken the right direction in India, not because their proponents had bad intentions but because the dhArmic setup and the scheme of victimhood isn’t simply understood in the compassionate zeal. This is rather a warning, which needs to be taken into account in the articulation.
The culprit-victim dichotomy
The most important aspect in all the victimhood movements is that the victim as proposed by the movement is a shoulder to shoot at the culprit of oppression – the Hindu society.
A small example serves to explain this – in a poor family, there are several problems. There is constraining, there is lack of resource, there is lack of fulfillment, there is lack of happiness and so on. Kids in the family, though not the only ones, suffer because of this. Now one could either formulate the problem as poverty of the family and try alleviating poverty, or one could formulate that the poor family is the culprit from which the kids and their “future” should be liberated. ALL victimhood movements India has seen over the past several decades try the second. The fact simply, is that such movements are lending shoulders to outsiders attacking the society and not really helping the society overcome problems.
The holistic view that society is itself victim of oppression, lack of autonomy, constrainment, target of alien control, is largely missing in these. Whereas when the society is seen as a victim, and one works for alleviating the social condition, all the apparent problems that exist in the society are overcome naturally.
For instance, untouchability is a bogie British propagated to cover for the most oppressive institutions slavery and feudalism. But untouchability in itself neither is the source of oppression nor did it go away with removal of untouchability. On the other hand when living conditions started improving, untouchability also faded in many regions – for which the credit is appropriated by fake reformers. Similarly dowry did not start as a social problem, it is an economic problem imported from medieval Europe and it did not go away with social reform. As a matter of fact the practice exists but does not result in the social evil that it was made out to be, not because of social reform but because of change in economic conditions. The causation of many problems and their pretended solutions are very different from what factually happened.
Coming back to the topic, the articulation that woman suffers in an increasingly de-feminized worldview foisted on the society is not visible in HF – what is visible in contrast is the take that woman suffers in H society thereby making society the villain. This will only sow more seeds of weakening both feminine and Hindu society’s causes rather than addressing either, as the track record of other movements show.
Problems with inward looking
HF in its articulation makes a similar mistake that constitution makers did. The constitution gives state authority to reform Hindu society, which is inherently self-reforming, and leaves full autonomy to communities that are theocratic and need state intervention, such as Islamic society.
While Indian Feminism (IF) is inherently anti-Hindu, IF has a definite positive – it does not leave out communities that really need a feminist reform esp Islam. HF, similar to what constitution does, confines the scope to the groups that have the ability to reform and have always been evolving, leaving out the groups that do not have such ability.
The second problem with inward looking is it overlooks the external causes of what are supposedly internal problems. Fact is that the present of Hindu society has the backdrop of lack of self-governance, oppression, colonizing, enslavement, civilizational loot and so on. But they do not figure in HF analysis of the present state of affairs, and far from that there is a wrong causation presented in the name of not escaping from ground reality.
While the word Hindu Feminism may or may not be new, the thought process is making rounds for a while and needs both articulation and critical evaluation for the constructive and destructive potential the idea has. For instance a Hindutva scholar like Radha Rajan can hardly be imagined to propose an inherently anti-Hindu phenomenon of Indian Feminism – essentially her proposition in the article is something similar to Hindu feminism. But again, it is the conceptual basis that is missing and only driven by a visible phenomenon with little causation presented.